This past week, everybody in 49ers twitter has been dunking on an idiotic tweet by a professor of political science, Jason Johnson, and fair enough: it really is ignorant.
#JimmyG isn't even a game manager, he's a middle of the pack point guard. At least Goff has an arm, so does Kyler.— Jason Johnson (@DrJasonJohnson) December 27, 2019
But to be fair, Professor Johnson is half right. I think that “point guard” is an excellent metaphor for what makes Garoppolo great. The middle of the pack is way off base, but change that to “excellent point guard,” and he makes an interesting point.
Back in October, I wrote a column about the insults calling Jimmy G, “a game manager,” and this idea is very similar. He does not need to be the star, to be the hero, the diva, the showboat.
Garoppolo does exactly as much as he needs to win, and lets his teammates get the glory when possible. That’s not a weakness; it’s his strength.
What is “a point guard” in football?
A classic basketball point guard — someone like Terry Porter or John Stockton — does whatever it takes to win. He looks to distribute the ball to whoever is best able to score while serving as the emotional center of the team — the rock who keeps them steady — and he drives them where they need to go.
Sure, he’ll put it on his own shoulders and shoot the back-breaking three when the moment calls for it. But it’s never about his statistics, or looking like a badass, or being the star. He just wants to win.
When you translate that to football, it’s clutch, a team leader in the huddle, and getting the ball to the right teammate when the pressure’s on. Above all, it’s about winning.
People put down “QB Wins” as a stat, and of course, football is a team game. No one person can decide a game, and a great quarterback on a terrible team isn’t likely to win.
But the QB can make the most of what a team has, and a very talented quarterback finds ways to win even in the most difficult circumstances. When the Niners first started Jimmy G, they were 1-10. He won five straight, with no other significant roster changes.
You will never convince me those are not QB wins. As I write this, he’s 18-5 as a starter with the Niners, even counting the game he left with an ACL tear. That’s on a team that’s 6-33 over the last four years in games he didn’t start.
Not enough data for you? How about some statistics on clutchness— 3rd down conversions, 4th down conversions (many of them QB sneaks), and 4th quarter comebacks. It’ll be fun to compare Dr. Johnson’s two “big arm” QBs, especially since Goff has much more talented receivers.
Let’s start with 4th-quarter comebacks this year. Garoppolo has led four, tied for first in the NFL with Russell Wilson — who is having a career year — and Josh Allen. Jared Goff has one with the 8-7 Rams; Murray rallied to a tie one time.
The Niners are 6th in the league on 3rd down conversions, at 44.79%, and even better on the road (47.92%). Goff’s much more talented Rams — with the “big arm, “ Cooper Kupp, Brandin Cooks, and Robert Woods — are 17th at 37.89%, while Arizona is 23rd with 35.29%.
4th down conversions
On fourth down, Garoppolo’s 49ers are 3rd in the NFL (58.3%), but let’s give credit to Kyler Murray. The Cardinals are even better, 2nd at 65%. The Rams? Dead last with a 25% conversion rate.
Even that is misleading because Goff is so bad that coach Sean McVay has punter Johnny Hekker run a lot of his fourth-down plays on fake punts (3 times so far this year, 5 in 2018).
The Rams have converted only 3 of 12 fourth down plays overall this year — and two of those three conversions were Johnny Hekker passes. He missed one, meaning that Goff is 1 of 9 on 4th down attempts. But hey, that big arm, eh?
That big arm
Yeah, about that. The purest measure of effective arm strength is from the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, the LCAD (or longest completed air distance on a pass). Goff is tied for first (with Kirk Cousins) at 60.5 yards, which is very impressive. But Jimmy G is right behind him at 57.2 yards (9th), while Murray is at 55.1 (T-14 with Patrick Mahomes). Not a big gap.
Even that misses the bigger picture. Hoisting the longest possible passes is a showoff move or a sign of desperation by a team way behind. To criticize Garoppolo because his receivers get a lot of yards after the catch — which requires hitting them in stride — makes no sense.
The long bomb puts the focus on the QB while reducing the chance of a completion. Style points don’t help you win, and Garoppolo has more completions of over 40 yards (7) than Goff does (6). Kyler Murray has 10, which is great (T - 7) but reflects how much the Cardinals have been clawing their way back from big deficits, as much as his arm strength.
Jimmy G averages more yards per pass thrown (8.1) than Goff (7.4) or Murray (6.8) and has a much higher touchdown percentage (5.9, T-6 and just behind Russell Wilson) compared to Murray’s 3.6 and Goff’s 3.3 — 28th and 30th of the 32 NFL quarterbacks, respectively.
The bottom line is, Garoppolo gets the job done very efficiently. And if the glory goes to George Kittle or Deebo Samuel or Emmanuel Sanders for a great run after the catch, that’s just fine. He’s content with winning.